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Are you interested in my research? Seeking for relevant players within the Legislative Branch

[Editor’s note: This post is part of a series produced by Leandro Echt and Vanesa Weyrauch from Politics&Ideas to share what we learn through the development and conduction of an online course targeted to policymakers in Latin America on the use of research in policy.]parliament

If we focus on the key players within the state structure, it is worth mentioning that most public policies are designed by the Executive Branch (more than by the legislative power) and that those in charge are often technocrats working in public administration (more than “politicians”). Among them, standing secretaries, staff officials, special advisors, writers, political analysts, technical consultants, researchers hired by the government, etc. stand out.

But while the role played by the legislature is more related to “making” laws as well as passing or rejecting the Executive Branch’s work, in those situations in which the Legislative Power is capable of examining policies or influencing the passing of a bill, technical staff plays an important advisory role, as key evidence drivers. In all Parliaments there are often many specialized advisors, who can quickly answer legislators’ questions using a variety of evidence sources; there are also specialists who work in commissions and play a key role in the preparation of reports or explaining concepts to members of Parliament (MOP); in some cases, there is a Science and Technology office which provides information on issues related to research.

In some counties, the parliamentary commissions even admit to the inclusion of experts that are not MOP, besides legislators themselves. That is the case of Thailand. Also parliamentary commissions in the United States have many experts among their staff who, in some cases, are the main specialists in their field and who generally have broad responsibilities and influence: commission personnel influences research-related decisions that determine the agenda and negotiate on behalf of the commissions and their presidents and work to create coalitions within commissions, chambers and conferences. An example of this is the Congressional Research Service, established in 1914, that works exclusively for the United States Congress based on the concept that governing a modern Nation-State was a complex task and that elected officials needed good information in order to make sound political decisions. In the case of Portugal, for certain laws, such as labor laws, it is necessary to consult with NGOs and commissions have the right to consult with experts and NGOs on any issue (National Democratic Institute, 1996).

Besides, since executive and legislative personnel play an important role in policy making, it is also true that they tend to stay in their positions much longer than elected or appointed politicians. Therefore, efforts to work with them on the use of evidence may yield results in the long run (Newman, 2012).

In short, it is important to consider the different paths to reach a policy maker. The message we want to convey may be retransmitted through different intermediaries and, thus, reach the decision maker more strongly: if they hear about something once, they may ignore it; if they hear about it from another source, they may stop to think; if they hear about something from many different sources, it is very likely they do something about it. Members of the Congress and their staff/advisors can thus become allies to spread ideas further.

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